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Top tips for volunteering


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If Student Volunteering Week has inspired you to give some time to help others, well done! But – what happens now?

In my experience, there’s a huge difference between signing up for volunteering and actually getting yourself out of the door and committing to helping the cause on a regular basis. Whether nerves or a lack of time, so much can stop us from getting involved.

To help you take those next steps here are some tips to make your volunteering experience worthwhile.

1. Be brave

Going to your first meeting or event is probably the most nerve-wracking thing about volunteering. If you’re lucky, you can find a friend to go with you, but doing something by yourself is a fantastic learning curve.

Taking a chance and being brave is really what university is all about, so why not extend that into your volunteering? My rule has always been to consider it a one-off: it’s just one hour or one day of your life. If you love it, then great. If it’s awful – and let’s be honest, how awful can it really be? – it won’t last forever. And who knows – it might just be a great experience.

2. You only get what you give

What’s the main reason you’re thinking about volunteering? For lots of us, it’s to do with having more to pad out our CVs, especially if we’ve never had a job other than a paper round. But also think about what you can offer!

You might think that you don’t have many skills which are required by the cause you’ve volunteering for, but you might be surprised. Even something as simple as knowing how to use Twitter or Facebook for networking can be really highly sought after skills which the organisation might not yet be harnessing. Volunteering is all about sharing your time and your skills, so play nice.

3. Treat it like a job
Given that volunteering is, well, voluntary, it is very easy to let it slide by the wayside when deadlines and exams hit - or even when you’re just feeling a bit lazy! Treating it like a mini-job will help to make it a bit more of a priority for you, and be great practice for when that work is a bit more compulsory.

If you’re hoping that your volunteering is improving your employment prospects, use it as a chance to try out your time-management skills. It’ll make you seem much more professional to the organisation which can only be a good thing.

4. Dedication’s what you need
On a similar note, showing some dedication to your role will make things so much better for you and the organisation. To help with that, think carefully about what you can actually offer. If you know you won’t have time to spend hours every week walking dogs, or that you’re in fact allergic to said-dogs – don’t sign up to that in the first place!

Only promise what you know you can do, and follow through on those promises. This should help you to avoid feeling too stressed about it and help the organisation plan accordingly. Letting people down is not the way forward!

5. Think outside the box
You’re a fairly unique person, you know. Nobody else has the same contacts and experiences as you. Perhaps you’re a member of a club or society at university, have a part-time job or even a huge following online. Whatever connections you’ve got, see if they can help with your volunteering in some way.

Maybe your society can raise money for that charity, or the organisation can offer support with a Student Union event? Look for links and connections where you can to add value to all of the elements of your life. You never know: it might be a little legacy you can leave behind when you move on to pastures new! 

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